Eight Decades of Devotion: Beloved Fr. Paul Landolfi, S.M. Returns to God

DBy Owen Barthel ’19

Devout. Faithful. Gentle.

These are some of the many words that members of the Marianist community used to describe Fr. Paul Landolfi, S.M., who passed into eternal life on November 16 at the age of 90.

Fr. Paul spent 73 years in the religious life as a teacher, chaplain, and spiritual director, but his lifelong connection to the Blessed Mother dates back even further, as his childhood was spent in an orphanage run by members of the Society of Mary.

“Boys who lived in the orphanage with him 80 years ago came to his funeral. 80 years ago! It’s incredible,” said Marianist novice Bro. Patrick Cahill, n.S.M. ’11. “But that was the kind of person he was. If you met him, you couldn’t forget him.”

Even though Fr. Paul arrived at Chaminade just five years ago in 2012, he left an exceedingly strong impression on the Mineola-based Marianist community. Students, religious faculty, and lay staff all recall his uncanny ability to establish personal connections and make people around him feel welcome and comforted. The bedrock on which Fr. Paul built such kindness was his spirituality, as well as his perpetual devotion to Mary.

Born in Brooklyn on December 17, 1926, Fr. Paul was one of four children, three of whom were boys. When he was just five years old, his mother died, and his family, like many others during the Great Depression, faced serious financial troubles. As a result, his father was forced to place the young Paul in St. John’s Residence for Boys in Rockaway Park, hoping to bring him back home when he had saved enough money to support the family. Unfortunately, his father passed away a few years after this, and Paul remained under the care of the Brothers of Mary, who had assumed control of the orphanage.

Seen here ministering the Body of Christ during a Mass in Darby Auditorium, Fr. Paul lived out an unwavering devotion to the Eucharist into his final days on Earth.

Although he was educated in public school, Paul was quickly drawn to the life of the Marianists. He started religious training at age 14, and in 1944, he professed his first vows. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Dayton in 1947, he continued his religious education, making his perpetual vows in 1950. Fr. Paul then attended a seminary in Switzerland and was ordained a priest on July 17, 1955.

Fr. Paul was a devoted academic and held two master’s degrees – one in administration from Villanova University and another in pastoral counseling from New York Theological University. He spent as many years teaching as he did learning, serving as an educator at different Catholic high schools in the 1950s and 1960s. He returned several times to work at his boyhood home – the St. John’s Residence – as well.

When the Marianists withdrew from St. John’s in 2012, Fr. Paul asked to be moved wherever he “could be best of service” to the Marianist community, and soon after, the Province of Meribah welcomed him to Mineola.

In his five years at Chaminade, Fr. Paul affected the community in a number of ways, always leading with both his words and deeds. An expert on all things Marianist, Fr. Paul had a big computer on his desk and was always researching more about the order’s spirituality and history – even at 90 years old!

Vocations Director for the Province, Bro. Stephen Balletta, S.M. ’74, recalled the details surrounding a prayer service that Fr. Paul wanted to organize to commemorate the recent 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima.

As the anniversary neared, Fr. Paul was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of leukemia that would ultimately lead to his passing. This diagnosis would require weekly blood transfusions, as well as an exhausting treatment routine.

Fr. Paul administers ashes to a student in homeroom to usher in the season of Lent.

“I remember saying very distinctly to him, ‘Paul, you just got a very serious diagnosis. Are you sure you’re up to this? I don’t think this is a good idea,’” said Bro. Stephen. “But Fr. Paul was completely dedicated to making Mary the Blessed Virgin known, loved, and served, so he wanted to go forward with it.”

Bro. Stephen said he nearly decided against holding the service, but then Fr. Paul said to him, “Well, I know if Our Lady wants this prayer service to happen, it’ll happen.”

“He was very good at making me feel guilty,” admitted Bro. Stephen with a laugh. “So I said, ‘Okay, we’ll have it.’”

It came as little surprise to many that Fr. Paul was well-prepared for the service. Incredibly, he was still in possession of old notes he had taken in preparation for the 50th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima half a century prior. The notes were typed on an antique, manual typewriter, and Fr. Paul ended up using them as the basis for his script at the centennial prayer service.

Despite his failing health, Fr. Paul was able to preside at the prayer service, which was attended by over 200 people.

“His voice was strong, he was very alert, and he would not be deterred,” recalled Bro. Stephen. “That was [Fr. Paul] – when he was dedicated to something, he would pour his heart and soul into it.”

This commitment to prayer was evident in his everyday life, as Fr. Paul’s daily schedule revolved around it. Members of the Chaminade community noted that he was always 30 minutes early for any prayer service or Mass – even when that required him to get out of bed at 4:00 a.m. because his illness had made moving to the chapel a time-consuming chore.

Bro. Peter Sennert, n.S.M. ’11, another novice who spent significant amounts of time studying under Fr. Paul, said it was easy to see the effects of his life of spirituality.

Fr. Paul was “such a gentle man,” said Bro. Peter. “To be that gentle while being so powerful showed just how much he was fueled by grace.”

Bro. Peter went on to explain that Fr. Paul showed many of the Marianist brothers what it truly means to be Marianist – namely, how these men are called by God to expand Blessed William Joseph Chaminade’s spiritual mission.

“Even though [Fr. Paul] might not have spoken to every student, I think that the way he deeply affected the brothers and how we approach our mission affects the whole school,” Bro. Peter explained. “If you influence the brothers, you influence the entire school.”

It seems that Fr. Paul truly affected everyone he encountered. Maintaining an office opposite Chaminade’s chapel, he came in frequent contact with many teachers and students.

“Whenever my friends and I visited him, he always greeted us with a smile and handshake,” recalled James Pham ’19, a member of the Faustino Club, a group of students considering religious vocations in which Fr. Paul was very active. “He always took the time to remember our names and to ask us how we were doing. He was a great man and Marianist who will surely be missed by us, the Chaminade community.”

Peter Camporeale ’18, on the other hand, met Fr. Paul just once – but that was still enough for Peter to feel his warmth and good humor.

“I sat with him at a communion breakfast sophomore year, and he was just really interested in what everyone else at the table had to say,” the current senior recalled. “I told him that I had lived in England for a while, and he jokingly replied, ‘At least you’re bilingual!’”

While on a retreat, Bro. Patrick also had a notable personal experience with Fr. Paul. During the retreat’s recreational period, Bro. Pat approached the priest, who was in his late 80s. In an attempt to teach him a card game, Bro. Pat soon came to realize that Fr. Paul was a major “card shark,” and the elder went on to beat him over and over. Bro. Pat remarked on how “crazy” it was that a 23-year-old could connect and have a great time with a man nearly four times his age. Because of Fr. Paul’s multifaceted character, though, connections like this one came about rather easily for him.

As it became harder for him to physically move around, Fr. Paul still found ways to impact others on a spiritual level. In the five years he spent at Chaminade, he compiled a list detailing the birthdays of everyone who worked in the building. Not just the brothers; not just the teachers. Everyone. From teaching faculty to secretaries to coaches to maintenance men and the cafeteria staff, everyone got a message from Fr. Paul on his or her birthday. Many of these people expressed amazement upon receiving a “happy birthday” email from an elderly priest, but to those who lived closely with him, the thoughtfulness and thoroughness was not surprising.

“That’s just how he was,” reflected Bro. Stephen.

Fr. Paul spent the last three days of his life at the Queen of Peace Residence in Queens Village, which is run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. Here, he continued to greet people with excitement and joy even though he was suffering through his final sickness.

“Right away, he was asking everyone who walked in the door – every Sister, every nurse, every cleaning person – ‘What’s your name?’ He would then take great delight when they returned an hour later, and he’d say, ‘Oh, you’re Veronica,’ or ‘You’re Sister Marie.’ Although he only spent a short time there, you could tell that many of the nurses were affected and saddened by his passing. He was just the kind of person who made very profound connections wherever he went,” said Bro. Stephen.

Surrounded by several of his Marianist brothers, Fr. Paul died peacefully while reciting the Memorare, a special prayer to the Blessed Mother.

Fr. Paul’s funeral Mass was held on November 20 in Darby Auditorium. Bro. Pat called it “a great celebration of life with a tinge of sadness.” Indeed, the funeral was somber because of the breadth of this loss to the Chaminade community. Yet, there remained a joyful feeling throughout, as all in attendance were confident that Fr. Paul was in Heaven.

The Chaplain of Kellenberg Memorial High School and assistant Marianist provincial Fr. Thomas Cardone, S.M ’73 presided over the Mass. His homily recounted Fr. Paul’s holy and compassionate life and the example he has set in mentoring younger members of the Marianist order, like Bro. Pat and Bro. Peter.

In terms of how Fr. Paul will be missed, Bro. Stephen said it best:

“There’s a real sense of loss and sadness….Just in terms of someone who was an inspiration for Marianist life, [Fr. Paul’s] loss is deeply felt. On the other hand, I would say there was also an enormous amount of gratitude and happiness in that we had the privilege and joy of having him in our midst for five years.”